Two Ladies Kitchen in Hilo Has Summer Fruit Mochi and We Ranked All 9
Peach, cherry, strawberry, pohā berry: Whatever you get, phone in your order ahead of time.
It’s Saturday at 9:30 a.m. Two Ladies Kitchen opens at 10 and already I’m the eighth person in line. Early birds are a mix of locals from other islands and foodie visitors from beyond. I’m soon to learn that Hilo natives know to phone in their orders up to a day before, which makes pickup time speedier—or they just skip the Saturday madness altogether.
Two Ladies has been turning out fresh mochi from the same Kīlauea Avenue location for almost two decades. Although it’s most famous for its fresh strawberry and azuki bean mochi, with whole juicy strawberries nestled inside soft and mildly sweet mochi, the shop turns out more than 20 flavors as well as fresh manju daily. Favorites range from more modern mochi stuffed with marshmallow or Oreos to the more traditional shiso mochi filled with a smooth azuki bean paste, and nantu, an Okinawan creation filled with tsubushi-an (chunky, sweet azuki beans) and dipped in kinako roasted soy powder.
Today I learn my order will take an hour, since all the mochi are made to order, and instantly regret not placing it the day before. Deciding which flavors to get takes much less time: I go for all eight of the seasonal fresh fruit mochi, including strawberry, plus a bonus addition of pohā berry, which I spot on its own handwritten sign near the register. So my lineup is peach, cherry, apple, pear, grape, strawberry, strawberry shortcake, mandarin orange and pohā.
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Back on O‘ahu, I cut open each one to reveal the gems within. All except the grape and strawberry include a tiny dab of sweet, smooth shiro-an white lima bean paste. Then I set myself to the delicious task at hand: tasting and ranking all nine.
No. 9: Peach
The colors of this mochi are super cool and tie-dye and I love peach, so when I cut it open and see the white peach with the shiro-an I have big dreams! In the end the peach is under-ripe and its juices have started to break down the mochi, making for a slightly messy, watery result.
No. 8: Green apple
Nice and crisp, but too much of a texture differential with the soft mochi to produce a pleasing mouthfeel.
No. 7: Pear
Unfortunately, the pear is not ripe, probably either because it would be too juicy (see No. 9: Peach) or because it’s just not peak season yet. I do like how this mochi is pear-shaped and carries the fragrance of pear.
No. 6: Cherry
This one has to be eaten right away as the cherry is already pitted, which shortens its shelf life dramatically. I imagine it would have been better if I had eaten it immediately instead of two days after it was made. However, the cherry is ripe and has a nice flavor.
No. 5: Mandarin orange
A beautiful mochi if you cut it right, so that a perfect cross-section of juicy mandarin orange glimmers in the center. The flavor is refreshing with a slight orange blossom note. I understand why the membrane has to be kept on the fruit, but in the end it throws off the texture just a tad.
No. 4: Strawberry
A plump, ripe strawberry balances acid perfectly with the sweet azuki, and is completed by a perfect ratio of silky white mochi.
No. 3: Strawberry shortcake
Moist and not too sweet, with a tiny bit of cream and fresh strawberry inside, this chunky baby is a surprising texture bomb.
No. 2: Grape
Another tiny flavor bomb, firm green grapes bring juicy acid to the azuki beans, giving you layers of fun and bright flavor. Both the pohā and grape work especially well because the wet parts of the fruit are contained, giving you a gleeful pop and keeping the moisture away from the mochi at the same time.
No. 1: Pohā berry
One of the smallest of the bunch, this mochi holds pohā berries that are incredibly fresh and complex, reminding me of little sweet tomatoes, fragrant and with a vegetal finish. They cut the sweetness of the shiro-an perfectly.
I would definitely get seasonal fresh fruit mochi from Two Ladies Kitchen any day. However, armed with my newfound understanding, I now know exactly which ones make for the best flavor and texture combinations. I’m also more than happy with my kinako chichi dango, fluffy pink pillows that are nutty and sweet. But hey, if you see pohā berry mochi when you go, get ’em!
274 Kīlauea Ave., Hilo, (808) 961-4766, @twoladieskitchen